Welcome to April — and we all know what happens on the first of April. That’s right… April Fools’ Day. Google marked the occasion with a clever prank that duped much of the SEO community. We’ll get into more on that later, and also cover some serious news such as Google shutting down its Goo.gl URL shortener. In other developments this week, Google rolled out an update to search results that should really appeal to movie lovers. Google clarified some misunderstandings about how certain types of URLs affect SEO, and whether or not structured data is a ranking signal. Lastly, a study was published this week revealing that a feature built into Google Chrome is driving a significant amount of traffic to websites.
More details about each of these top stories will be covered in this week’s SEO news roundup.
Google Pranks SEOs on April Fools’ Day
Google had a little fun on April Fools’ Day with a prank disguised as a new Search Console feature. The company announced on Twitter that a new “Recrawl” button had been added to Search Console. A button that triggered Google to recrawl a site on demand? What an amazing new feature! However, if you were to actually click the button, you’d quickly find out it was too good to be true.
For normal crawling and indexing, just use a sitemap file. To submit individual URLs, use Fetch as Google. But if you just want to click "↻ recrawl," we're never gonna let you down.
➡️ https://t.co/uoaCWUIrap ⬅️ pic.twitter.com/OyyDZJ5z8V
— Google Webmasters (@googlewmc) March 31, 2018
As you can see, Google even left a clue in its tweet saying “we’re never gonna let you down.” Those are lyrics from Rick Astley’s song Never Gonna Give You Up, which as gained notoriety as part of an internet prank known as “Rick rolling.” That’s exactly what Google did. If you clicked the “Recrawl” button you’d end up watching the YouTube video of Astley’s smash hit. In other words, Google managed to Rick Roll everyone.
The best part is a lot of SEOs were duped by the Recrawl button. Some publications even reported on it as being an actual feature, not realizing it was a joke. Moral of the story — if it seems to good to be true, and it was announced on April 1st, chances are it’s a joke.
Google Shutting Down the Goo.gl URL Shortener
Google announced this week that it is discontinuing its popular URL shortening service — Goo.gl. Those who currently use the Goog.gl URL shortener can continue to do so for at least another year, as it will permanently shut down on March 19, 2019. The good news is Goo.gl links will continue to function. If you’ve used Goo.gl to share shortened links then you will be able to view your analytics data and download your short link information in csv format for up to one year, until March 30, 2019.
Google Enhances Search Results for Movies
Google has enhanced search results for movies with new features such as reviews and shortcuts to buy tickets. Entering search commands like “showtimes” or “movies” will return a list of movies playing near you, where they’re playing, and, of course, the showtimes themselves. You can then tap on the desired showtime to buy a ticket. Alternatively, you can narrow it down by location with a keyword like “Parsippany showtimes.” The new search results for movies also feature reviews from IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, so users can make more informed decisions about what they’re going to see. Currently, this feature is available on the Google app for Android in the US and India. It will soon be available on the Google app for iOS.
Are File Extensions in URLs a Problem? Google’s John Mueller Has the Answer
In the latest installment of Google’s SEO Snippets Q&A videos, John Mueller answers a question from a concerned site owner wondering if removing .html from URLs would help their site’s rankings. Mueller confirms that Google doesn’t care whether URLs end in .html, .php, .asp, or have no file extensions at all. In fact, removing file extensions from URLs may even harm the site.
Mueller went on to say that removing file extensions from URLs is the same as restructuring a site. That means all old URLs will need to be redirected to the new ones. In addition, like any site restructuring, it will take time for it to be recrawled by Google. If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to remove file extensions from URLs, Mueller recommends doing this during a time when you’re less dependent on search traffic. For example, a seasonal business may want to consider doing a major site restructuring during their off season.
Is Structured Data a Ranking Signal? Google’s John Mueller Weighs In
Google’s John Mueller cleared up some confusion about structured data and whether or not it can affect rankings. Structured data is a type of code that is used to create enhanced search listings, such as stars for reviews and breadcrumb navigation displays in the search results pages. Some people in the industry believe that structured data may also provide a rankings advantage over other sites. However, Mueller clarified that there is no rankings boost associated with structured data.
There's no generic ranking boost for SD usage. That's the same as far as I remember. However, SD can make it easier to understand what the page is about, which can make it easier to show where it's relevant (improves targeting, maybe ranking for the right terms). (not new, imo)
— John ☆.o(≧▽≦)o.☆ (@JohnMu) April 2, 2018
In other words, there is no automatic ranking boost for using structured data, but Google still reads it to learn more about a page’s content. Businesses with multiple locations can benefit from using structured data. For example, a business can create web pages for each location and use structured data to communicate the locations to Google. As another example, businesses that sell products online can use structured data to communicate the manufacturer part number (MPN), colors, sizes, manufacturer, reviews and descriptions. These are just a couple of examples — We are firm believers that every site can benefit from structured data in one way or another.
There’s a New Source of Referral Traffic in Town: Google Chrome Article Suggestions
What’s the ultimate goal of SEO? It’s not just the thrill of seeing your site rank #1 for high-value keywords. At the end of the day, it’s about generating more traffic to your site’s pages. It turns out Google has a new traffic driver on its hands — personalized article suggestions built into the Chrome mobile app.
Mobile article recommendations show up when a user opens a new tab in the Chrome app. A new report from Chartbeat shows that Google Chrome’s mobile article recommendations are now the fourth greatest driver of referral traffic— behind Twitter, Facebook, and Google Search. According to Chartbeat’s data, traffic from Chrome’s article suggestions have grown 2,100% in 2017. Referral traffic jumped from 15 million visits per month to 341 million visits per month
The success of Chrome’s article suggestions can likely be attributed to the fact that users continue to transition away from desktop computers to mobile devices. There are a few other factors at play here as well, such as Chrome being the number one browser in the world. In addition, article suggestions show up by default every time a new tab is opened in the Chrome app. Anyone who uses the Chrome app literally cannot avoid seeing article suggestions.
Although Chrome’s article suggestions have been around for a few years now, it’s still too early to determine how site owners can optimize content to be shown as an article suggestion. Early studies indicate that publishing AMP (accelerated mobile pages) versions of content may help. Chartbeat says Chrome’s article suggestions primarily surface AMP pages, with 72% of article suggestions leading to AMPs.
The key takeaways from this week’s news include:
- Google’s April Fools’ joke truly did fool a bunch of SEOs. There is no actual recrawl button in Search Console.
- Google is shutting down the goo.gl URL shortener in March 2019.
- Google search results now contain more information about movies currently playing in theaters.
- File extensions in URLs do not affect SEO, and removing them could cause problems.
- There’s no ranking boost for using structured data, but it does help Google better understand what’s on your pages.
- Article suggestions in Google Chrome are now the 4th greatest driver of referral traffic.